Healthcare Business

Merrill Lynch Offers Four Key Biotech Drug Updates

Biotech pipeline news and biotech drug news continues to hit. A report from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch is highlighting four small-cap to mid-cap biotech stocks with positive prescription trends so far in 2013. The analyst report, led by Steve Byrne, is actually mixed in the stocks to buy case. This Wall St. research report covers Alkermes, Optimer, Questor and VIVUS. We have included the firm’s price target and the consensus price targets for some comparison.

Alkermes PLC (NASDAQ: ALKS) is already higher after its depression drug met its goals in Phase II studies. Merrill Lynch said that long-acting antipsychotics will be up 5% from a year ago, Vivitrol prescriptions are up 19% and even GLP-1 (Bydureon) is up 18% year over year. The firm rates this one only at Neutral, with a submarket target price of $24 for the stock. The Thomson Reuters consensus price target is also less than the $28.00 market price today, but Alkermes has seen a 9% gain on Wednesday.

Optimer Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: OPTR) was said to have IMS prescriptions of Dificid in March of 2,136, versus 1,998 in February. The firm noted that IMS data exclude hospital purchases of Dificid. Merrill Lynch rates Optimer as Underperform with only a $12.00 price target. Optimer shares trade at $14.65 today, and this stock has a $17.50 consensus price target.

Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOR) was shown to have its Acthar gel prescriptions down in March, versus February, but the firm expects that it will show sequential sales growth in the first quarter. This biotech is rated as Buy with a $40.00 price target over the next year. The consensus price target is all the way up at $45.38, versus a $27.36 price today.

VIVUS Inc. (NASDAQ: VVUS) was shown by Merrill Lynch that Qsymia prescriptions were projected to be 6,825, versus 5,481 in February. The firm said that yesterday’s FDA expansion should lead to an inflection in prescription growth before the end of 2013 and it expects additional longer term growth from that expanded formulary status. VIVUS is rated as rated as Buy at Bank of America, with a $24 12-month price target, and the consensus price target is $18.04, versus about $11.85 today.